Family sues Warren County after son dies in jail

Lawsuit claims 25-year-old heroin addict died due to lack of care.

The mother of a 25-year-old man who died while being held in the Warren County Jail in September has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and those responsible for his care.

Darlene Pittman brought the lawsuit on behalf of the estate of her son, Jason Pittman, 25. The Warren County man and father of two died of dehydration because of withdrawal from heroin addiction, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

Pittman’s death was part of a national epidemic involving jail inmates who die from lack of care for heroin withdrawal symptoms, according to his uncle, Chris Koch, a well-known elected official in Warren County.

A study published in 2010 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that only 11 percent of substance abusers receive any type of professional treatment in jail, and fewer than 1 percent are provided medically assisted detoxification.

“This is a nationwide problem. This is a serious issue that is affecting people in every corner of our nation,” said Koch, a Union Twp. trustee.

At the time of his death, Pittman was in the jail after violating probation.

“In 2015, Jason missed a number of probation appointments and drug screens. His probation officer put out a warrant for his arrest. During that time, Jason, like so many young people in southwestern Ohio, had become addicted to heroin,” lawyer Alphonse Gerhardstein said in the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit names the Warren County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Larry Sims as well as Correctional Healthcare Cos. and a doctor and nurses who worked at the jail in Lebanon between Sept. 13 and Sept. 17, when Pittman was found in his cell. He was pronounced dead at Bethesda Arrow Springs.

The lawsuit claims Pittman’s care violated his constitutional rights and caused his death.

It also claims malpractice and negligence by those responsible for his care and calls for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and “such additional relief as the court deems just and proper.”

Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims declined to comment.

Sims, who oversees the jail operation, said he hadn’t reviewed the lawsuit and would likely be responding through the county’s lawyers.

Sims also declined to release the results of an internal review in light of the lawsuit.

Correctional Healthcare Cos., is a Correctional Care Solutions company. It employs “6,000 employees working in 333 local detention facilities around the country,” according to its website.

Correctional Healthcare Cos. did not respond to an email requesting comment.

According to the lawsuit, Pittman had been in the jail since Sept. 13.

“Shortly after his admission, Jason started withdrawing from heroin. For the next three days, he experienced severe nausea , intractable vomiting, and diarrhea. He could not eat. He could not drink. Nothing would stay down,” the lawsuit said.

In addition to “fair compensation,” the lawsuit was brought to “encourage defendants to provide appropriate treatment for future inmates suffering from drug addiction,” according to the initial complaint.

Pittman, a pipefitter, was engaged to be married when he entered the jail on Sept. 13, after a traffic stop, for violating probation for a theft for collecting unemployment benefits after returning to work.

“It was his first time in jail,” according to the lawsuit.

Over the next four days, the lawsuit describes jail workers, including a doctor and nurses working for Correctional Healthcare, assessing Pittman’s condition and bring him aid, but claims the workers were negligent and expected to make assessments beyond their level of expertise.

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